Book Notes: Attack Surface

Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow
Read Dec 7, 2020 - Dec 23, 2020

This book could have been a good way to introduce folks to its timely central themes: digital surveillance and its pervasiveness, the nasty tangle between private contractors and defense and law enforcement, the role of individual technologists and the choices they face. This book could have been a fun action romp, deserving of 3 stars, if Doctorow bothered working with an editor or simply tried to tighten things up a bit.

Instead, we got basic continuity mistakes. We got repeated words (seriously). We got way too many way too long descriptions of security concepts, which Doctorow is not able to make entertaining, and which strictly substract from the narrative rhythm. We got the obligatory facile conclusion in which the main character makes a better moral choice after years of terrible choices and can finally sleep soundly.

But what pushed me from “meh” into active annoyance is Doctorow’s insistence on making most of the central characters female, and yet only being able to depict women as cartoons of the usual tropes. We have powerful women in the private surveillance aparatus, depicted as cold, lonely, bitter, severely-dressed and intent on ladder-climbing. We have the good-hearted, at first glance plain but at second glance gorgeous “strong woman”, married to a male computer nerd that she has taught to be less of an asshole. We have the main character, who is into “compartmentalizing” and tells us in more than one occasion how “every man” at some party hit on her.

Even by the standards of lightweight action romps this is some remarkably poor writing.

Tags: books

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